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Corporate altruism: a new way for giving help.


Strategic alliances and mergers in today's corporate world are in the headlines. Such alliances can improve the bottom line.

But other partnerships by corporations are giving them an opportunity to affect more than their bottom line, they can affect their communities by taking part in specific causes.

United Way, a leader in the volunteer sector, has been working to facilitate these new partnerships. Jan Lederman, president of United Way of Winnipeg and vice-president of Crocus Investment Fund, says United Way works to match community needs with corporate strengths.

"Matching our knowledge and relationships with specific corporate interests is a positive move for everyone," she says.

For example, United Way linked Investors Group with the Youth Opportunity Project which targets students who are at risk of getting involved in gangs. Investors is a corporate donor to the project.

W. Terry Wright, Investors Group Senior Vice-President of Corporate Affairs, sets out the company's philosophy. Says Wright, "We feel very strongly that it is our responsibility to contribute to the quality of life in our communities, where we live and work."

The idea that corporate responsibility goes beyond serving the interests of shareholders is gaining acceptance at big, small and mid-sized businesses. The reasons are varied.

Stewart Leibl, President of Perth's, a Winnipeg drycleaner, is a founding sponsor of the Koats for Kids program. The company's outlets are a drop off point and Perth's deans the coats free of charge before they're distributed.

Says Leibl, "We all have a .responsibility to contribute to the society that we live in. We came in at the very beginning of the Koats for Kids program because people in our organization saw it as an important way to contribute to people who really had problems - children with no winter coats."

The results of a survey by the Centre for Corporate Community at Boston College found that consumers reward socially responsible companies. Eighty per cent of the respondents said they would do business with a company because of its community involvement.

Involvement in the development of programs like the Youth Opportunity Program and Koats for Kids offers just one option for businesses with a social conscience.

This year fifty-five organizations and businesses in Winnipeg have loaned a staff person to work full-time at United Way for three months to assist with the annual fund raising campaign. David Johnston, president of The Johnston Group, is one of the businesses which loans an employee each year. Says Johnston, "For us, there are two wins - you're giving someone who is important to your business an opportunity to grow as a person and at the same time, you're helping United Way. It's an excellent professional development experience - our loaned reps come back to us with new and stronger skills."

Other employers have novel approaches to raising money. Calvin Gosse, general manager, IBM - Manitoba, says supporting an employee campaign benefitted IBM in a way he hadn't expected.

"We held a lip sync contest where employees dressed up and performed on stage. One of our senior people raised $1,900 for our auction just by shaving off a moustache he had for 33 years. People felt good about the cause and I heard people joking and laughing with each other in a way that hasn't happened in a long time. It was a real morale-booster."

In addition to businesses contributing financial and human resources, a glance at United Way's list of volunteers indicates that the city's busiest leaders also invest their time and energy.

United Way's Lederman says, "United Way works to bring people together in constructive ways, so we can address the shared concerns of the community."

Increasingly, private business has joined with labour, government, and community service organizations as part of a collaborative effort that will find solutions to the social issues that challenge us all.

(Sandra Malcomson is marketing and communications director of United Way of Winnipeg).
COPYRIGHT 1998 Manitoba Business Ltd.
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Author:Malcomson, Sandra
Publication:Manitoba Business
Geographic Code:1CMAN
Date:Nov 1, 1998
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